Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: October, 2016

The Obligation to Lie

Humans are a strange lot. Our social customs can be so convoluted and bizarre that for those on the spectrum, trying to navigate them can be like trying to unravel a mating ball of snakes, or the wires behind your TV, if they had holes in their insulation and you were standing in a tub of dishwater.

One particular custom that a lot of us find very difficult is knowing when we are expected to lie.

In our society, people often ask questions not because they want an honest answer, but because they want to hear a specific response. Similarly, people often make statements for the sole purpose of being contradicted. “Am I ugly?” “That speech I gave today was so terrible.” “I look dreadful tonight.” “Did I mess that up?” “I’m such an idiot.”

Very often, we spectrum folk don’t realize we’re supposed to lie, and respond with a brutal honesty that can get us into trouble. It’s not that we’re being intentionally hurtful, but rather that we’re misinterpreting “Does my bum look big in this?” as a genuine request for feedback. It may not even occur to us that what’s really being asked for is reassurance.

Now, if you’re not on the spectrum, these kind of ‘white lies’ may seem so obvious and natural that it may be hard to imagine how they could be so confusing. Try to think of it this way; in some countries, the ‘thumbs up’ gesture is considered extremely rude, equivalent to a middle finger. If you live in one of these countries, you would know this instinctively, but if you come from a country like Australia where it’s a positive gesture, you may not realize this, and have no idea why you’ve caused offense. Many of us on the spectrum perceive social protocol through a similar lens; it’s like a foreign culture to us.

If you’re on the spectrum and want to err on the side of caution, a general rule is that if somebody makes a negative comment about themselves, they want to be contradicted, and if they ask for an opinion about themselves, they don’t want negative response.

Honesty, it turns out, isn’t always the best policy. Openness, on the other hand, can go a long way. In time, those of us on the spectrum can learn the nuances of social protocol, just as a person might learn a second language, or the customs of another culture. It takes time and practice, but it can be done. In the meantime, I’ve found that being open about the fact that I’m on the spectrum and find social skills challenging has helped to defuse many a misunderstanding.

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Over to You

Max’s Shop of Horrors has been rolling off the presses every Tuesday for almost 3 years now. That’s close to 150 entries, and if blog ideas were trees, my brain right now resembles post-industrial Isengard.

Don’t worry; I’m not abandoning this blog. I’m just suffering a semi-fatal case of writer’s block this week, so I thought I’d open the floor to you guys, as your readership is the reason this blog has lasted as long as it has.

What kind of topics would you like to see me cover in future entries? You can let me know by leaving a comment here, or by commenting/messaging me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Maximasaurus) or Facebook. (https://www.facebook.com/max.williams.7564)

I can’t promise I’ll get around to covering every request, but any suggestions are welcome.

Thanks muchly for your support, you magnificent humanoids.

Flying under the radar

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I was diagnosed as being on the spectrum at the ripe old age of 19. While that’s certainly not the oldest I know of, it is older than is usual, at least for my generation, and I am often asked why it took so long. Well, it’s a long story, but here’s the short version.

Our story begins back in the primordial mists of 1989, an ancient epoch when perms, bum bags and the Soviet Union were still a thing, and the term “Asperger’s” had not yet been included in the World Health Organization’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Sure, Autism was a known condition, and there are many others my age who were diagnosed young, but the definition was somewhat narrower than it is today.

My parents were fairly sure I was on the spectrum from a relatively young age, but whenever I was tested by psychologists and the like, I didn’t quite fit into their pigeonhole of what Autism looked like. And so, my parents were told over and over that it was all in their heads. You’d think that hand flapping and intense interests would be dead giveaways, but apparently the “experts” thought I was too social and too clever to possibly be on the spectrum.

It wasn’t until I was 18, and my anxiety went off like Mount Doom at the end of Return of the King that I finally got my first diagnosis; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This explained my fears, but left the rest of my spectrum traits unaccounted for.

The following year, my parents arranged for me to be evaluated by one of the leading specialists on Autism in the state. Her verdict was conclusive; I was on the spectrum.

Being diagnosed as Autistic was a big relief for me, because I finally had an answer as to why I experienced the world so differently from those around me. For the first time in my life, everything made sense. I wish it had happened sooner, as I feel like this knowledge would have helped immensely during my high school years, but hey, at least it happened in time for University.

This is why it’s so important that we recognize the diversity of the spectrum; so that those who are on it but don’t quite match the examples in the textbook get the support and answers they need.

Digital Detox

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As I get older, entering the withered decrepitude of my late 20s, the urge to revert into “kids these days” mode is increasingly difficult to resist. Having said that, I’m also a Millennial with a practically photosynthetic addiction to screens, so I’m trying to strike a bit of a middle ground here.

On the one hand, I do think a lot of the panic around the younger generation’s attachment to technology is just business as usual, the same old fear of the new and unfamiliar that saw television, rock ‘n’ roll, computers, motor vehicles, telephones, radio, and even the printing press demonized in their early days.

On the other hand, however, I believe that where there’s potential for dependency, there’s potential for abuse. For example, it’s fine to own and use a smartphone, but if going without it for even an hour can induce the symptoms of withdrawal, then we have a problem.

The weekend before last, I went to visit my Mum and Step-Dad, who live in the middle of the bush. Usually, I spend a good chunk of my day on the internet, but while I was there, I went without it. I also barely used my phone. And you know what? I felt great.

It made me realize that while constant access to the online world can be fun and useful, it can also be like having a ball and chain around my ankle, because it can feel like an obligation. It’s like I’m always on call; like I have to be available 24/7 to answer messages and emails, check my social media channels, etc. It can be as much a source stress as entertainment, and sometimes it’s nice to take a break from that.

I also cannot emphasize enough the therapeutic value of getting away from the urban/suburban sprawl with its endless assault of stimuli and taking some time out in a natural setting. A walk in the bush can be a wonderful antidote to stress and anxiety.

Our minds, like our bodies, need time to rest and recover, and sometimes unplugging for a few days can be just what we need.